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Chapter 1 - Population

The latest estimate of Scotland's population (on 30 June 2013) is 5,327,700 - the highest ever and an increase of 14,100 people on the previous year.

The current increase in Scotland's population has been driven mostly by net in-migration although there have also been more births than deaths. In the 12 months to 30 June 2013, in-migration exceeded out-migration by approximately 10,000. This included a net gain of around 7,900 from the rest of the UK and a net gain of around 2,100 from overseas. Other changes, such as changes in the numbers of armed forces and prisoners, resulted in a net gain of around 3,200. In the same period, there were approximately 900 more births than deaths (approximately 56,800 births and 55,900 deaths), continuing the recent trend in positive natural change which began in 2007.

Population estimates for mid-2011 to mid-2013 have been created from rolling forward the 2011 Census. The population estimates for mid-2002 to mid-2010 were revised to include information from the 2011 Census in December 2013.

The increase in Scotland's population in the last decade, and projected changes over the next two decades, should be seen in the context of the relative stability of the population over the last 50 years, as shown in Figure 1.1. The population increased to 5.24 million in 1974 before decreasing to 5.06 million in 2000 and then increasing again over the last 13 years achieving the highest estimate so far, 5.33 million, in 2013.

Figure 1.1: Estimated population of Scotland, actual and projected, 1951-2037

Graph showing estimated population of Scotland, actual and projected, 1951-2037

Figure 1.2 shows the trends in natural change (births minus deaths) and migration. Between 1963 and 1975, both natural change and net out-migration fell dramatically, although the natural increase generally remained greater than net out-migration. This resulted in a growth in population up to 1974. From that point on, through the late 1970s and the 1980s, up until 1989, net out-migration was higher than the natural increase, causing the population to decline. In recent years the trend in natural change has reversed and Scotland has also experienced record levels of net in-migration resulting in small increases in the population over each of the last 13 years. For the second consecutive year, 2013 saw a fall in gains from natural change and net in-migration, although the population still increased because of both components. Natural change decreased as there were fewer births and more deaths than in the previous year. The fall in net inmigration was driven by falling in-migration from overseas.

Figure 1.2: Natural change and net migration, 1951-2013

Graph showing natural change and net migration, 1951-2013

Age Structure

Composition by age and sex is one of the most important aspects of the population, as changes in the number of males and females in different age groups will have different social and economic impacts. For example, increases in the elderly population are likely to place a greater demand on health and social services.

Figure 1.3 shows the age structure of the population in 2013. Seventeen per cent of the population were aged under 16; 65 per cent were aged 16 to 64 and 18 per cent were aged 65 and over. Amongst older people, particularly those aged over 75, the higher number of females reflects the longer expectation of life for females, partly as a result of male mortality rates during the Second World War. The sharp peak at age 66, and the bigger bulge between the ages of around 40 and 50, are the result of the two baby booms of 1947 and the 1960s. The smaller bulge between 20 and 30, which is sometimes referred to as the echo effect, is the children of the baby boomers.

Figure 1.3: Estimated population by age and sex, 30 June 2013

Graph showing estimated population by age and sex, 30 June 2013

Figure 1.4: The changing age structure of Scotland's population, 2003-2013

Graph showing the changing age structure of Scotlandís population, 2003-2013

The changing age structure of Scotland's population over the ten years mid-2003 to mid-2013 is illustrated in Figure 1.4. During this period the population increased by 259,200 (+5.1 per cent), from 5.07 million to 5.33 million. The ageing of the population is evident from the decrease in population aged under 16 (-4 per cent) and the increase of those aged 45-59 (+14 per cent), those aged 60-74 (+17 per cent) and those aged over 75 (+16 per cent).

Changes within Scotland

Figure 1.5 shows the percentage change in population between 2012 and 2013 for each council area.

The council area with the greatest decrease in population was North Ayrshire where the population declined by 640 (-0.5 per cent). Moray (+1.5 per cent) and Argyll & Bute (+1.3 per cent) saw the greatest percentage increases; most of the increase was due to changes in armed forces personnel. The largest increase in absolute numbers was in the City of Edinburgh (+4,860).

The relative importance of migration and natural change differs between areas. In some areas of population increase, such as the City of Edinburgh, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, the gain is attributable both to migration and to natural increase. Falkirk and Fife experienced a population increase because of in-migration combined with a very low natural change. In other areas, the population increase is due to in-migration, despite the number of deaths exceeding the number of births. These areas included East Renfrewshire and Stirling.

Similarly, some areas of population decline, such as West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire and Inverclyde have experienced population decreases from natural change, migration and other changes. In other areas such as Eilean Siar and Dumfries & Galloway the population decline was mainly attributable to more deaths than births. This analysis is shown in Table 1.1, which compares percentage change in population due to natural change and migration across the Council areas.

Figure 1.5: Percentage population change by Council area, Mid-2012 to Mid-2013

Graph showing the changing age structure of Scotlandís population, 2003-2013
Table 1.1: Components of population change for Council areas: Mid-2012 to Mid-2013
Council Areas2Natural Change1Net Civilian Migration and Other Changes1Percentage Population Change
  1. Change per 100 population at mid-2012. The underlying data used to produce these figures can be found in Table 4 of the 'Mid-2013 Population Estimates Scotland' publication.
  2. Ordered by population change.
Argyll & Bute-
Edinburgh, City of0.30.81
Aberdeen City0.20.81
East Renfrewshire-
East Lothian0.00.50.5
Dundee City0.00.30.3
Glasgow City0.20.10.2
Orkney Islands-
South Lanarkshire0.00.20.2
Scottish Borders-
West Lothian0.3-0.30.1
Perth & Kinross-
East Dunbartonshire-
North Lanarkshire0.1-0.10.0
Shetland Islands0.3-0.40.0
South Ayrshire-0.40.3-0.1
East Ayrshire-0.1-0.2-0.2
Dumfries & Galloway-0.40.0-0.4
North Ayrshire-0.2-0.2-0.5
Eilean Siar-0.50.0-0.6
West Dunbartonshire-0.1-0.5-0.6

Projected Population

The latest projections of Scotland's future population were published in November 2013 and are based on the estimate of Scotland's population in June 2012, which is itself based on results from the 2011 Census results.

The projections, based on existing trends of migration and natural change and making no allowance for the future impact of government policies and other factors, such as the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence, show the total population of Scotland rising from 5.31 million in 2012 to 5.78 million in 2037 (Figure 1.1).

As demographic behaviour is uncertain, a number of variant projections of the future population have been calculated, based on alternative assumptions of future fertility, mortality and migration, in addition to the 'principal projection' on which the previous paragraphs are based. The variant projections give users an indication of this uncertainty. They illustrate plausible alternative scenarios, rather than representing upper or lower limits of future demographic behaviour. These variant projections, and the assumptions used, can be found on the Office for National Statistics website.

For the principal projection until 2032, natural change and migration both act to increase the size of the population as the number of births is projected to exceed the number of deaths and net in-migration is assumed. After that point, the number of deaths exceeds the number of births, a consequence of the ageing of the population, whilst the net migration into Scotland is assumed to continue. Figure 1.6 shows the historical and projected future trends of births and deaths in Scotland.

Figure 1.6: Births and deaths, actual and projected, Scotland, 1951-2037

Graph showing births and deaths, actual and projected, Scotland, 1951-2037

Between 2012 and 2037, Scotland's population is projected to age significantly. As shown in Figure 1.7, the number of children aged under 16 is projected to rise only by 5 per cent, from 0.91 million to 0.96 million, and the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise by 59 per cent, from 0.93 million to 1.47 million, while the number of people aged 16 to 64 is projected to decrease by 4 per cent, from 3.47 million to 3.34 million.

Figure 1.7: The projected percentage change in age structure of Scotland's population, 2012-20371

Graph showing the projected percentage change in age structure of Scotlandís population, 2012-2037

Another way of looking at the age structure of the population is to look at dependency ratios. Dependency ratios can be defined in different ways.

Here three are calculated:

These ratios should be interpreted with care. For example, a simple interpretation is the number of older people or children who are 'dependent' on people aged 16 to state pension age, the assumption being that most older people and children are not economically active. The reality is of course much more complex, since (to give just a few reasons) many people of typically working age are unemployed or economically inactive (e.g. at school or university), the age at which people retire varies greatly and many retired people are financially independent. However, these 'dependency' ratios provide a useful way to examine the relative age structure of the population.

Figure 1.8, which takes account of the increase in the state pension age for both males and females1, shows little change in these ratios over the next 5-10 years, but a fairly rapid increase in the pension age population relative to the working age population in subsequent years. This starts to slow down in 2035 due to changes in state pension age.

Figure 1.8: Projected dependency ratios (per thousand working population), 2012-20371

Graph showing projected dependency ratios (per thousand working population), 2012-2037

Scotland's position within the European Union (EU)

The population of most of the countries in Europe is projected to increase over the next few years. Scotland's population is projected to rise by 9 per cent between 2012 and 2037. The population of Europe2 (EU-283) is projected to increase by 1 per cent while the rest of the UK, and certain countries such as Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland, are projected to have much bigger increases. However Germany, Spain and Portugal as well as a number of Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs3), are projecting a population decline as Figure 1.9 shows.

Figure 1.9: Projected percentage population change in selected European countries 2012-2037

Graph showing projected percentage population change in selected European countries 2012-2037

Scotland is not alone in having an ageing population. The pattern of change over the last 20 years, and the projected change in the age distribution, is similar to that of other countries in the UK and Europe, although the rate of change varies.

More Information About Population Statistics

More detailed information about Scotland's population, including estimates, projections at national and sub-Scotland level, as well as estimates of specific population groups, can be found within the Population section of National Records of Scotland (NRS) website.


  1. The pensionable age calculations take into account the increases in the state pension age as set out in the 2011 Pensions Act. Between 2012 and 2018, the state pension age changes from 65 years for males and 61 years for females, to 65 years for both sexes. Then between 2019 and 2020, it rises from 65 years to 66 years for both males and females. A further rise in state pension age takes place in two stages between 2034 and 2046 to bring the state pension age from 66 to 68 for both sexes. Note: the calculations presented here do not reflect further changes to the state pension age published by the UK government. Further information regarding these changes can be found at:
  2. The Eurostat projections of population in selected European countries are not directly comparable to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) projections of population in the countries of the UK. The Eurostat projections are based on estimates of the population at 1 January while the ONS projections are based on estimates of the population at 30 June. The methodologies in determining the underlying fertility, mortality and migration assumptions also differ.
  3. Refer to 'Appendix 2 - Notes, definitions and quality of statistics' for definition of EU-15, EU-28 and CEECs.

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